It's so typical that you wait ages - years, even - to check out a restaurant and then, when you do go, you have a cold and under-active taste buds. Not ideal! But the Bull and Last, a much touted gastropub on Highgate Road NW5, did not disappoint.
Located just opposite Parliament Hill Fields and, handily, just around the corner from my house, the Bull and Last shot to fame when Giles Coren reviewed it for The Times last autumn, followed by Time Out and The Evening Standard, all singing its praises. I like to try and avoid that kind of hype: let the Zeitgeist hawks have their fun and move on to the Next Big Thing. The pub is nearly always busy when I walk past, but we were seated pretty quickly at lunchtime yesterday.
The Bull and Last is beautifully simple and rustic inside: cavernous Victorian high ceilings and huge windows give a sense of space and light, mismatched stools by the bar, chalked blackboards detailing their suppliers. Good looking, though overworked, waiting staff run around trying not to trip over the many pedigree pooches and children meandering away from the tables of slightly smug north London bohemian families.
Not feeling too hungry and saving a 'big meal experience' at the Bull and Last for a day when I have more active taste-buds, I went for the pigeon and pistachio terrine, which was served with a spiced plum chutney. The terrine was gamy but fresh - a celebration of the pigeon's slightly smoky, meaty flavours. It was paired perfectly with the plum chutney, a bistro salad and some bread.
I was jealous of my co-diners' charcuterie boards. The Bull and Last's homemade charcuterie is now the stuff of legend and included deep-fried pig's head, duck prosciutto, some boozy liver pâtés and other bits and bobs. Also on offer was a fishboard, which a couple at a neighbouring table intimately fed to each other. Nice.
The main dishes change frequently, but there there are traditional homemade snacks such as scotch eggs, black pudding sausage rolls waiting to accompany a pint on the way home from a chilly walk up the Heath. There's lots of proper hearty gastropub fare too, and the desserts are supposedly excellent - there was Fererro Rocher ice cream on the menu when I was there. If the entire menu is as tasty as our snack lunch options, I'm going to have to make quite a few trips back to do the Bull and Last justice.